This framed photo of Greg Ploetz (31) playing for the Longhorns is displayed in his bedroom. "He was a heck of a football player, as tough as they come," says a former Texas teammate. (Denver Post file)

Ex-Texas football player, whose family tried pot for his dementia, dies at 66

Greg Ploetz, for several years confused and weakened by mixed dementia and frontal lobe damage, fell often.

Three weeks ago, when it happened again, his former Texas Longhorns football teammate, former fullback Bobby Callison, was visiting Ploetz in Little Rock, Ark.

Callison bent down to help him up.

Softly, Callison said, “Buddy, there’s going to be a time you’re not going to want to get up.”

Ploetz, raised in Colorado Springs and a starting defensive tackle on Texas’ 1969 national champions, died Monday. He had been in a hospice for less than a week. He was 66.

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“It was like Bobby, his best friend, gave him permission to die,” Greg’s wife, Deb, said this week. “I guess all great athletes are fighters. He did not want to give up.”

Ploetz was a popular long-time artist, art teacher and football coach in the Fort Worth area. His death came a year after Deb, hoping marijuana products could be openly used in his treatment, brought him to the Denver area for several months in 2014. Eventually, in part because of mixed messages and disputes over whether marijuana oils could be administered in state-monitored facilities, including at a memory-care assisted-living home in suburban Denver, Deb took Greg back to Texas. They moved on to Arkansas in January.

Deb said that being able to use marijuana oils in his treatment “wouldn’t have prolonged his life, but would have kept him from being so miserable. That’s a topic that needs to be studied. I truly believe it calmed him.”

State's legal acceptance of marijuana use plays big role for Ploetzes
Deb Ploetz visits her husband, former University of Texas defensive tackle Greg Ploetz, who holds their dog, Butter, at an Arvada facility designed to assist people with dementia. The couple moved here from Texas to supplement Greg’s care by legally using marijuana oils. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)

Ploetz’s brain was donated to Boston University. In a few months, word will come about whether he also suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), caused by repeated blows to the head.

Listed at 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, small for a defensive tackle even in his era, Ploetz was taking painting classes when starting for the Longhorns and was named UT’s top art student as a senior. There never was any question about his toughness; he played in the 1969 Texas-Arkansas showdown for the national title with a cracked bone in his ankle.

CTE can be diagnosed only after death, and it has has been linked to concussions and suicides of several athletes, including former NFL players Dave Duerson and Junior Seau. Most recently, an autopsy showed that former NHL player Steve Montador, whose cause of death in February hasn’t been released, had widespread CTE.

A memorial service for Ploetz — a celebration of life — will be held on May 24 in Fort Worth. His former Longhorn teammates are organizing a similar gathering to take place in Austin, perhaps on May 30.

A Ploetz teammate from that era, Dallas attorney Julius Whittier, who was Texas’ first African-American letterman in football, has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. In October, he filed a $50 million class-action lawsuit against the NCAA on behalf of players who didn’t make the NFL, but are suffering from brain injuries.

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